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How to work remotely: set boundaries, make your bed & stay out of the kitchen

In recent months, folks across the world have started to work remotely for the first time. At first, working in your sweats seems too good to be true. But it’s easy to fall into traps like working extra long hours, feeling isolated, and losing a sense of camaraderie and motivation.

We asked three Groundwork members who are veterans of the remote work force to share their tips for balancing work and life outside the office. Here’s what they had to say:

How do you set boundaries between life and work?

Ray Anderson
Ray Anderson, Director of Engineering at Wayfair

RAY: I’ve worked remotely from both my home and from Groundwork.  I found it very easy to get caught up in my work when my work and my home were in the same place.  There’s something about physical separation of work/life that helps me mentally “shift gears”. I try to treat my Groundwork desk like it’s “my office” and I do my best to do work only in “my office”.  There’s the added benefit of driving home at the end of my work day. It adds a formal end to the workday and the start of family time. This seems simple and maybe a little silly, but it’s HUGE for me.

I’m typically available to my colleagues 24×7 but almost never reach out to them before or after hours. That last bit seems to set a boundary with them — if i don’t reach out to them off-hours, they don’t reach out to me off-hours. 

I let people know when I’ve begun working and when I stop as well as when I’m going to be absent for time off.  We have slack channels that we use for this non-critical chatter. Folks say good morning/good night in these channels in a variety of ways — it doesn’t feel at all like checking in. It’s more like “Hey, I’m here and I’m ready to support you.”  One guy even gives the weather forecast every morning when he starts working. I typically make a forecast joke in response or post a picture of the day before. It’s fun, and informative ;-)

MIndy Wallis
Mindy Wallis, Instructional Designer at CareAcademy.com

MINDY: I don’t find this very difficult, perhaps because I have an understanding husband and very accommodating bosses. I’m pretty good about setting a work schedule and sticking to it most days. Sometimes my work bleeds into my personal time, but my husband usually lets me know if he thinks its becoming a problem. :-) More likely, he’ll say, “If it’s something you need to do, then you need to do it.”

Trey Piepmeier
Trey Piepmeier, User Experience Engineer at Fictive Kin

TREY: It’s harder now than it used to be, but I set pretty strict work hours of 9-5. I use different “Desktops” in macOS to separate work-related from personal software.

What are some ways that you build rapport with your coworkers online?

RAY: We’ve got a bunch of stuff going on at my virtual workplace: google hangouts spent just chatting with bourbon on Friday afternoons (and an accompanying slack channel), online gaming, even some remote formal activities like online murder mysteries via hangouts and one of my favs: https://www.fancysips.com/live-classes.

These are all nice but what’s really helped lately is spending 10-20 min one on one video chatting with just about everyone I can find time to meet with. For me, it’s the substitute for walking around in the office and having ad-hoc conversations.  This has led to some very impactful ideas and follow-through as well as help to keep relationships in shape.

MINDY: We have a weekly all staff meeting every Monday morning via Zoom. We’ve added a section called “Life Updates” and people share little personal details. (It’s not required, and it can be a major event or something as minor as buying something new.) Since Covid we’re been having virtual happy hours every other Friday evening. We swap who hosts them, so we do different activities. We’ve played games, done a variation on “The Moth,” and a Pecha Kucha. We also use our #random Slack channel to share (random) stuff. We’ve had a lot of new employees start in the past few months, so I’ve also had 1/2 hour virtual coffees with a bunch of people, just to have a 1:1. (Especially as I won’t be interacting with most of them for work.)

TREY: Pretty typical stuff: chat, email, and video calls.

Is getting dressed every morning really that important?

RAY: Yes. The simple routine of dressing for work helps me get in that “work mindset”.  Commute a little if you can, too. I’d heard of colleagues taking walks before working in the morning. It seemed like a good idea but I couldn’t really get into it. Driving to Groundwork does the same thing for me.

Oh, and make your bed! It’s really powerful — no joke. 

MINDY: Getting dressed? I’m not sure I’m familiar with the concept. I do think clean underwear is important. Beyond that. . . have a decent Zoom shirt.

TREY: Yes, I think so. I feel a lot more ready for the day when I put on my “hard pants” (blue jeans) even if I never leave the building.

how to work remotely

What’s the hardest thing about working remotely?

RAY: On-boarding new employees remotely is very tough. I’ve taken to using formal on-boarding plans with 30, 60 and 90 day expectations, formal team bios, and team descriptions of any teams involved in the daily activity of the employee.  I’ve used this type of plan in the past but didn’t rely on them so heavily nor did I put so much effort into their creation.  I’ve found putting extra effort into writing these plans to be a useful exercise that fills in areas/topics I’d forget to review with a new employee in a video chat and it leaves the employee with a handy reference for their first days. It’s not like being there, but it definitely helps.

MINDY: I miss the serendipity of coffee break and lunchtime chats. Otherwise, I love working remotely.

TREY: The lack of context and nuance with communication can be difficult. I think it’s vital to err on the side of over-communication when you’re working remotely. In some ways, the landscape for remote workers is easier now since most people are remote. When it’s mixed between in-person and remote folks, you can feel like an outsider if you’re not in the building with the rest of your coworkers. Now everyone’s an outsider! 

If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting to work remotely, what would it be?

RAY: Remote working is hard… even if you’re a focused individual contributor with little dependence on others, it’s super hard to do remote work well. Don’t underestimate this difficulty. Finding the balance that works for you is really important. Be deliberate in what you’re doing. Measure how it’s working and adjust when something’s not showing the results you expect/want.  

For example, if having dinner with your spouse is something you want to do more regularly as a result of working from home, count and record when you do it.  Is that count going up or down? How many blog posts, Pull Requests, or other tangible work products are you delivering? Is that going up or going down since you went remote?

MINDY: Stay out of the kitchen except at mealtimes. It’s easy to succumb to the siren call of the refrigerator (or wherever your snack foods live).

TREY: Set strict boundaries. If you can devote a certain room of your home to be solely an office, that’s ideal. If you’re a member of a coworking space, only do work there as much as it’s possible. Even without that, a routine is probably the best boundary. Stick to a certain schedule like you would if you were trying to catch a bus or beat rush hour traffic.

And don’t work late! When you’ve hit quitting time, stop working. Enjoy your favorite beverage, watch TV, read a book. Do anything other than stay logged into work out of inertia or a misplaced sense of duty. That eats into your life. If you work for a company, they’ve compensated you for the bulk of the waking hours of your life already, don’t give them more of a bargain. You’re worth more than that. Even if you work for yourself, you still owe it to yourself to recharge.


Ready for more work-life separation? Check out our membership options; we are booking tours now for fall membership.

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